anghara (anghara) wrote,

On Tolkien, and on books and movies

I just tripped over Pat Rothfuss's take on the upcoming "Hobbit" movie - here - go read, I'll wait.

Back?... Okay. Here's the thing. He nailed it.

He gives the LoTR movies themselves far too much credit, I think, but then I may be more of an outlier than he is. The truth of it was that I went to see the first movie of the Jackson Lord of the RIngs trilogy WANTING to love it. It was a no-contest thing - I had read the books I don't want to tell you how many times, I knew them well, I was devoted to them. They were what they were, a product of their time and a product of their creator, and a very specific kind of book. No, there weren't any strong female characters in it at the protagonist level - Arwen was a love-interest-in-deep-background for most of this story (because she didn't have much of a role in this particular part of the story at all; Eowyn might have been Lady Ninja of Rohan with a major plot point to hang on her belt, but she was still just a PART of the whole tale; Galadriel was most definitely NOT the CGI witch that Jackson saw fit to make her in the movie version. Perhaps this will take a few gold stars off my feminist letter of credit, as it were, but honestly - I didn't expect women to ride to the rescue here. I didn't NEED them to. I was reading a certain kind of book for its own sake and that was fine as far as it went. My first serious teeth grinding in the movies literally came when they parked Arwen on Glorfindel's horse and made her a Pretty Little Warrior Princess (complete with flowing robes and matching glittering jewellery). By the time they got to Lothlorien and Jackson's version of Galadriel I was fit to be tied.

The movies were - well - big screen extravaganzas. That battle on the plains below Minas Tirith could have been dealt with in half the time - if the director could get past the gleeful little-boy hand-clapping approach of "oh, look, mayhem, battle, blood, swords, all that - and oliphaunts to boot!" (honestly, he must have been channeling Samwise on that last point). And because of what Jackson shoved IN, lots of things that should have been in were left OUT, and the entire thing is diminished by it. I thought tacking on the Grey Havens ending WITHOUT the Scouring of the Shire interlude to give it depth was just pure hard melodrama ("oh, look, we can wring some emotional hand wringing from the end of it - it's always good when an audience leaves the theatre in tears, no?") If they wanted the full impact of the Tolkien experience, the Scouring of the Shire was something that could not, should not, have been left on the cutting room floor. Best to leave it with the ending that the silly little fairy tale they actually filmed really deserved - have Aragorn marry Arwen, and then say "and they lived happily ever after" and leave it at that. But they couldn't, not without getting the fans riled. So they "did" the real ending. Badly.

In fact there was (for all the gleeful oliphaunts) entirely too much emo in those movies to begin with (MY Aragorn would never skulk around in the shadows staring at the Blade That Was Broken and wringing his hands going "I am not worthy". Sorry, but no. This was a man fully aware of who and what he was, who had already sacrificed much on that altar, and was willing to sacrifice more. Not the new-agey angsty fellow with the hand-wringing. Not so much. Not at all.)

And look you, I am not saying that I wanted the books up there verbatim with every Holy Word in place. I look at Tom Bombadil and I imagine that section of the book on the big screen, and I cringe and go hide under the bed, to be quite honest - yes, I know all about his provenance and his pedigree but Bombadil (at least in his ability to annoy) is something almost like Jar Jar Binks on steroids. No, I understand perfectly that a movie made from a book is, and has to be, an ADAPTATION of the book and not the simple rendering of the book's dialogue in live action. I understand that. PERFECTLY.

But here's the thing. The periphery of such an adaptation is something that is arguable and nebulous and all kinds of things can squeak past in the shadows. But what Jackson did was SCREW WITH THE FUNDAMENTALS. He took seminal lines of dialogue from where they made sense, and arbitrarily introduced them to a point in the tale where they were merely bathos. And he does not get the two arguably bedrock concepts that inform Tolkien's book.

The first is - well - perhaps it is simply the fact that he is an egalitarian New Zealander (but even so, technically he is still a subject of a Queen...) but he does not get the burden of royalty that Tolkien placed on his reigning kings - he does not get that a great King is fully self aware and cognisant of his self and his position and accepts whatever he needs to do in order to deserve the honour of wearing his crown. In the movies, I simply did not "get" the right-wise born King of Gondor thing that TOlkien invested his Aragorn with. That was gone. The movie Aragorn - aside from being arguably eye candy with a languid stare and lanky locks of a drummer of a rock band - does not really gain his stature through his lineage and his sacrifice and his self-knowledge and his acceptance that he is what he is and he will either achieve the purpose of his life or die trying. He is... diminished. I did not WANT him diminished. This was not a modern story with a powerless constitutional monarch. This was an old-fashioned KING. We never got that. Even the king of the Rohirrim was initially presented as a demented old man - and he was not, he was NOT, the whole scene of him magcially regaining his faculties was so wrong... Oh, just stop me now. It was all too, too much.

The second thing was the Elves. JACKSON DOES NOT GET THE ELVES AT ALL. WHen she isn't being the CGI Wicked Witch of the West, Galadriel appears to be a stray hippie from the streets of San Francisco. And Elrond comes across rather more like a frustrated and fairly pompous CEO than he ever did as a leader of Elvenkind. (Maybe it was just that Half-Elven thing. Tainted with the lesser clay of humanity, don'tcha know.) The whole Council of Elrond that resulted in Frodo going off to his quest was just... less than energising. I was far more ready to join the crusades during a performance of "Les Miz" on stage than I ever was to leap to a quest of this magnitude, and let's face it, the stakes were a tad higher, probably...)

Well, Jackson didn't get the Dwarves much, either. That whole Dwarf-tossing thing made me cringe.

And let me put it this way. You don't make a cinematic release of a movie, and then put out a "director's cut" on DVD - and the scenes that were taken out for the cinematic release went a long way to making the whole entire THING begin to coalesce into something that might, if you turned a blind eye to this or that, start to make some sort of Tolkienian sense. If you cannot make a movie of a book like this in a manner which will work in a cinematic release, well, why do it? Yes, they were huge hits. Yes, they were lauded to the skies. But while they may have been passable fantasy adventure movies, the one thing they were NOT, in my mind, was Lord of the Rings. And it pains me to think that these will be the definitive movies left in the ring, as it were, after all the dust has settled - simply because they were so damned expensive to make (and thus they MUST be good, no?) and because it has been repeated enough times that they are The! Ultimate! that any future contender will simply throw in the towel before even beginning the box(office) match.

I've seen the trailers for the Hobbit movie. At least the Dwarves appear to have a tad more dignity about them, in this incarnation (and trust me, they were VERY dignified. Mention dwarf-tossing to Thorin Oakenshield and you're likely to exit the scene with an axe in your brainpan.) I don't know, I just don't know. This is a less complex book than LoTR - but it doesn't mean that it's less subtle, and I have a horrible fear of all its lighter moments being turned into comic relief... and that Jackson is going to be up to his old tricks, rewriting the material according to his own fiat, taking out stuff that is needful in order to stuff in stuff of his own that is NOT or rearranging things in a way that HE thinks things ought to work. It failed for me in the LoTR movies, and I can't see it succeeding that greatly in this one. Pray GOD he doesn't stick in an arbitrary princess, like the trailer of the very first version of the movie did (what? You didn't go read Pat Rothfuss's blog? Go do it and watch that first video. COme on, just do it. I'll wait until you wash your eyes out, afterwards...)I mean, it's FANTASY, it's got to have a PRETTY PRINCESS, doesn't it?

THis is a subject on which I tend to wax fairly frantic. On one memorable occasion the programming powers that be at one convention saw fit to stick me on a panel discussing the Tolkien vs. Jackson versions of LoTR - and to make me moderate it, to boot. I introduced myself then as "your immoderator". Yes, Tolkien's books fail the Bechdel test. Yes, I do like to read about strong heroines in books which do not fail said test. But Tolkien I read because of other things, and not because of feisty female protags.And sticking a woman character into a place where she doesn't fit just because you want to have a female on the screen is almost as oogy as deliberately eschewing such a character at all - at least the latter is considerably more genuine. And yes, the intrusion of Arwen into the movie LoTR just so that the men could have Liv Ullman eye candy to look at just plain TICKED ME OFF. You really need to ask yourself who you are making these movies FOR, if you're the movie maker. If you want to make a movie of a beloved book, sticking an arbitrary thing like this in there is going to alienate the very fan base of that book who might be your target demographic. It may not be nearly enough to enrapture any other kind of demographic. Therein lies the danger. Just recently I was reading an article about how DIsney's movie "John Carter" has been deemed a flop before it even hits the theatre screens - the movie poster is a generic red background with a hint of a crescent and a human silhouette and the words "John Carter" on it. Those who grew up on the original books would LOVE to go and see "John Carter of Mars" - but this movie poster disenfranchises them from the outset, and they are already wary, thinking that if the studio was this leery of the "mars" word what could they possibly expect of such a film? And for those who have no clue who John Carter was and who wander into this movie expecting something vaguely contemporary, well, aren't THEY going to be surprised. If you make pulp movies, go for the pulp, for God's sake. Go for your demographic. Or don't do it at all.

I'm not at all sure I'd have the guts to go and see any movie adaptation of my books. Just imagining a situation like this is enough to make my stomach churn.

Hollywood and the movie industry and its "there there dear we know best" attitudes. I'm not saying that there's never been a good movie adaptation, ever, but all the same... there's a lot to answer for out there.
Tags: rant

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